MURRAY, KY — Every year, 175,000 children age 14 and younger are diagnosed with cancer worldwide. With help from places such as St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, 80 percent of those kids in the U.S. now become long-term survivors. The hope is that Zoey Smith, of Murray, will be one of them.
Zoey’s dad, Jeremy Smith, says his daughter is not your typical 4 year old. “She knows how to pronounce all of her medications, and I don’t even know how to pronounce half of them,” he says. “When you talk to her, when she actually opens up to talk to you, she feels more like a 15- or 16-year-old than a 4-year-old.”
Zoey was 20 months old when doctors discovered she had a form of Leukemia. That day she became a St. Jude patient.
Whitney Wadkins says at one point her daughter forgot how to walk, talk and eat. “All motor skills were gone,” she says.
Zoey went into remission soon after her 2nd birthday, which means doctors couldn’t find any cancer cells. But that only lasted a year and a half.
At 3 years old, Zoey went through aggressive therapy and beat the cancer a second time. Then at 4, Zoey had a bone marrow transplant, but it didn’t work. Jeremy says the cancer came back.
“As a father, there’s nothing that you can really do except just be there when she wakes up and goes to sleep,” says Jeremy. “It’s pretty much in the doctors’ and nurses’ hands.”
While Zoey was fighting to stay alive, her parents were fighting to keep their marriage alive.
“When she was diagnosed, we thought we have to be together because of this,” says Whitney. “It was putting stress on us and then you have a cancer diagnosis and it’s even more stress. We just had to sit down and say, ‘Look, right now we need to focus on Zoey. And we need to decide what we’re doing.'”
Zoey’s parents decided to get a divorce.
“We see so many families that don’t do that for their children, and it’s really sad situation. Because, you don’t know if you have another five minutes with your child at this hospital, so why spend it fighting with your child’s other parent?” says Whitney.
Jeremy and Whitney have each since remarried, doubling Zoey’s support team. Now she has a big brother to look out for her, too.
Zoey recently had a bone marrow biopsy to check if the cancer is still there. Whitney says they should know the results within the next day or so.